Baby sling safety
The British Association of Babywearing Instructors offers guidelines about safe babywearing. They recommend the ‘TICKS’ checklist, developed by the The Consortium of UK Sling Manufacturers and Retailers:
Tight - Slings and carriers should be tight enough to hug your baby close, as this will be most comfortable for you both. Any slack/loose fabric will allow your baby to slump down in the carrier, which can hinder their breathing and pull on your back.
In view at all times - You should always be able to see your baby’s face simply by glancing down. The fabric of a sling or carrier should not close around them so you have to open it to check on them. In a cradle position, your baby should face upwards not be turned in towards your body.
Close enough to kiss - Your baby’s head should be as close to your chin as is comfortable. By tipping your head forward, you should be able to kiss your baby on the head or forehead.
Keep chin off the chest - A baby should never be curled so their chin is forced onto their chest as this can restrict their breathing. Ensure there is always a space of at least a finger’s width under your baby’s chin.
Supported back - In an upright carrier, a baby should be held comfortably close to you so their back is supported in its natural position and their tummy and chest are against you. If a sling is too loose, they can slump, which can partially close their airway. (You can test this by placing a hand on your baby’s back and pressing gently – they should not uncurl or move closer to you.)
Babywearing instructors usually recommend that the safest position for a baby to be carried is in an upright position. Lying down cradle-type positions are best avoided with newborns, as it is difficult to ensure the position is safe without their chin and chest touching. Upright positions, with the baby’s legs in a frog or ‘M’ position with their bottom lower than their knees, are also more suitable for your baby’s developing hips and spine.
Bag style baby slings are more dangerous
Bag slings are unsafe for small babies as they put them in a dangerous position (chin-to-chest) and cover their faces with fabric, creating the risk of suffocation. The Infantino brand was recalled in 2010 due to deaths in the US, but similar shaped brands are still sold in the UK.
Front-facing baby carriers and slings
Carrying a young baby facing out in a sling is not recommended, as it forces your baby’s back straight against your chest, and causes their legs to dangle in a harness like position. This can mean the baby’s weight rests on his crotch rather than being spread from his bottom and thighs.
This type of sling also places your baby too low, with their head at mid-chest level. The design of this type of carrier and the low position of the baby are not always comfortable for the carrying adult either.
Unfortunately, few of the major carrier brands sold on the high street meet the safety criteria highlighted above so it is important to look around and make sure the sling you choose supports and protects your baby’s developing spine, hips and back of their head.
This article is based on ‘Babywearing: A guide’ by NCT antenatal teacher and babywearing consultant Sophie Messager, originally published in Perspective, NCT’s journal for practitioners in June 2013
Slingmeets are free informal drop-in sessions run by volunteers where you can find out more about slings.
Sling libraries are drop-in sling lending sessions run by volunteers. A fee and deposit are required to hire a sling but they can be useful when trying different slings out before you buy.
Many NCT branches hold slingmeets and libraries, find your closest one here.
You can also buy slings at NCT Nearly New Sales.
A list of UK babywearing consultants is available on The Sling Pages.
1. Glover R. Research overview: is there evidence to support the use of soft slings? Perspective 2012; (16):18-20.
3. International Hip Dysplasia Institute. Baby carriers, seats & other equipment. IHDI Educational Statement: hip health in baby carriers, car seats, swings, walkers, and other equipment.
4. The Sling School. Three ways to learn the art of babywearing.